Berlusconi Might Accept Leftist President, Popularity Mounts

The former Italian prime minister waters down his demands while his popularity rises.

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi could accept a leftist as president, provided his left-wing counterpart Pier Luigi Bersani enters a “grand coalition” with his conservative party.

Berlusconi previously demanded that parliament elected a right-wing party member president next week in exchange for supporting a government led by Bersani’s Democratic Party. In an interview with La Repubblica that was published on Friday, however, the septuagenarian former premier, who was sentenced to one year in prison last month for abuse of office but is appealing the conviction, insisted that the political situation in his country is so “dramatic” that the main left- and right-wing parties cannot afford not to team up.

Bersani’s party won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament in February’s election but not the Senate where Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà and the separatist Lega Nord hold almost as many seats.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement could give Bersani a majority in the upper chamber but it has ruled out joining any governing alliance, despite the left-wing leader’s overtures.

Bersani, for his part, has ruled out entering a coalition with Berlusconi but is under pressure from his party’s trade union allies to form a government “at any cost” and avoid reelections. Prominent Democratic Party members, notably Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, who lost an internal leadership bid against Bersani late last year, also urge the former industry minister to initiate talks for a centrist government.

If Bersani persists in his resistance to such a grand coalition, Italians would have to head back to the polls to break the deadlock. An SWG poll released this week showed that Berlusconi’s alliance could win 33.4 percent of the votes in new elections, up from 29.1 percent in February. The left, by contrast, would hardly pick up any more seats while the Five Star Movement remains stable at nearly a quarter of the votes.

Berlusconi, then, could squeak out a victory and deny Bersani his chance of becoming prime minister. Indeed, if there were new elections, the Democratic Party would likely replace him as candidate with Renzi. A separate SWG survey recently showed that he is more popular with the electorate at large. 28 percent of Italians back him for the prime ministership while only 14 percent support Bersani.